Comments on Romans 2:1-2:29
In this chapter, Paul concludes his argument against the gentile world that began at 1:18. Verses 2:1-16 is the second "apostrophe" of the letter, and could apply to either the gentile world (a continuation of 1:18-32) or could be considered the transition to his discussion of the Jewish world. The improper and arrogant attitude of judging others (when we are equally guilty and saved by grace) is the subject of these sixteen verses. Paul will offer the correct example of attitude and behavior in Romans 12:1-15:13.
The discussion with "the Jew" of 2:17-29 is the third "apostrophe" of the letter. Although Paul's main message in this letter is to the gentiles in the congregation, he also knows that this will be read aloud in the Synagogue. Therefore, both the Jews who believe in Yeshua AND the Jews that do not (yet) believe in Him, will be in "earshot" of this message.
Paul's explanation of the Jewish position before God (2:17-2:29) serves two purposes. First, to let the gentiles and Jews know that they are on a "level playing field" with God, regarding both condemnation and salvation. Also, Paul will now be able to "fairly" address any problems he has with the gentiles (later in the letter), as they will not regard themselves second-class citizens or victims of a double standard.
2:1-2:5As mentioned in the opening comments above, Paul has structured his letter in a fashion that certain general issues he raises in the beginning of it, can be brought up again later in the letter to teach a specific lesson. In this case, Paul is not only addressing the hypocrisy of judging, but also that God's will for mankind is to realize that each one of us sins, and that it is only by His mercy that any of us are "saved."
In turn, believers should lead lives that are not centered on their own "rights," but are rather focused on the "higher purpose" in any situation. Paul will further illustrate this in chapter8 (teaching on serving the spirit and not the flesh), and then focusing on specific gentile behaviors that need modification in chapters 12-15.
2:4 despisest thou the riches of his goodness
Following or not following God's ways does not always bring an immediate reward or punishment. Here Paul warns those who "think they're getting away with something," that they are not being penalized because God is merciful and trying to lead them to repentance. Should they turn a blind eye to this, they will follow the path he outlined earlier in 1:21-32.
This is not a "new" teaching:
Conversely, following God's ways does not necessarily bring reward in this life, but we are assured of it in the next. If we are practicing Torah or other acts of kindness hoping to "get something in return," we are no better than spoiled children, and God will treat us accordingly.
To some it may seem that Paul is inconsistent in his this letter, preaching that no one can earn salvation (it being by the grace of God), while also teaching that God, "will render to every man according to his deeds." This is a problem for the modern reader (i.e., some Christians) who have been conditioned to accept a "faith versus works" theology.
As discussed in our background material, the faith of Yeshua, Paul and the rest of the first century believers was one where works are an integral part of faith. To "have faith" in God/Yeshua did not mean simply "believing" certain facts to be true (even "in your heart"). True faith is indeed a gift, which cannot be earned. But coming to faith, means repentance, which is a turning from following the ways of the world to a path of obedience to God -- learning and doing His instruction -- which He gave in the Torah. Gentile believers are to do this (Acts 15:21), and Jews are to know that possession of the oracles of God does not guarantee righteousness - His commands are to be followed.
The wise Solomon wrote that trust (faith) in God, is based on following the Torah:
2:6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:Paul elaborates on these "deeds" in verses 2:7-2:9a. God does not play favorites as He is One God to all (the Shema). Also, we again see works as part of faith. (Also stated in 2:13.)
God's rewards and punishments are meted out according to what a person deserves. The concept is called middah keneged middah - "measure for measure"
Yeshua stated the same in His teachings:
Simply "believing" in the One true God, or that Yeshua is the Messiah, does not constitute true faith:
2:9-10 of the Jew first, and also of the GentilePaul shows that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23; 5:12) applies to Jews as well. (Again the Shema is at the heart of this teaching.) As the gospel and its blessings are to the Jew first, judgment is as well, as the Jews have the Torah.
2:12 as many as have sinned without law
Paul reiterates his position of chapter 1. Gentiles have no excuse even without the written Torah.
2:13 the doers of the law shall be justified.
Once again, Paul makes clear that Torah-based works are part of faith. This is not to say we earn our salvation. Rather, thankful obedience is both commanded, and a sign of a right relationship with God. Paul is also sending a message to any Jews who may have regarded their privileged status as not requiring observance to the Torah.
"John the Baptist" dealt with this pride among His brethren as well:
Like any good teacher, Paul knows repetition is important. Again, he stresses that God will judge gentiles based on what they should know. This raises the discussion of those who never hear the word of God but know to repent when they sin. Will God "save them" without their knowing who the Messiah is?
There is an allusion here to Jeremiah 31:33 and the New Covenant, which is promised to Israel. Paul uses this language in the context of gentile faithfulness, in that those who follow the One true God would share in the blessings, of the Millennium and World to Come, promised to Israel. Again, the theme of the Shema comes into play as there is One God (with His rewards) for faithful Jews and gentiles. (That faithfulness being defined by His Torah.)
2:15 - their conscience also bearing witness
Elsewhere, Paul speaks of the effect on the "conscience" of man when affected by self-righteousness and continued sin:
2:17-2:29This is Paul's third "apostrophe" - this one addressed to the Jewish world. Paul uses these "apostrophes" in Romans to point out pretentiousness of Jews, gentile pagans, and (as we will see later in his letter), gentile believers in Yeshua as well.
This was a lesson Peter says he was taught by God, which led to the decision of the Jerusalem council of Acts 15:
Paul also takes aim at the Jewish missionaries of his day, stating that Jewish hypocrisy causes blasphemy on the part of the gentiles. Paul states that a Jew does indeed have an advantage (3:1-2), but it is of no use to him if he uses what God has given him to boast and act in a hypocritical manner.
There is more to Paul's criticism of some of his fellow Jews in this chapter, than what meets the eye however. Paul will use the point he makes against the Jews, to more effectively argue against gentile believers in chapters 12-15. As we will see, both groups are guilty of claiming special status that causes them to act arrogantly toward the other.
2:18 - And knowest his will
God's will is revealed in the Torah. "Trusting in the Lord," means to follow the commandments of Torah, which "stand fast forever":
2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you
Israel is to be God's "Messiah," anointed to be a light to the gentiles:
Yeshua made it clear, that the Pharisees had the truth of the Torah in their teachings, but criticized them for the same thing Paul does in this chapter, hypocrisy and arrogance:
2:25 circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law:
Paul addresses the subject of "covenantal arrogance" - the idea some Jews had that they were righteous before God simply because they were Jews. Paul makes it clear that possessing the Torah is only advantageous for Jews if they are following it. Paul uses the concept of "boasting" in the Torah, and teaches that Jews have nothing to "boast" about.
2:25 thy circumcision is made uncircumcision
This verse (as with any in Scripture) does not stand alone. Some might take this to mean that as the Jews violate Torah (including rejecting Messiah) that God is done with them as His chosen people. Paul makes it extremely clear in chapters 9-11 of this letter, that this is not the case. Such Jews remain God's chosen, but now are not fulfilling the role they were given; "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel." (9:6).
2:27 shall not uncircumcision ... judge thee
This does not mean gentiles will sit with God in judgment of Jews one day. Rather, the obedience of righteous gentiles will serve as witness (along with Torah) against Jews who violate Torah.
2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly
Unfortunately, this verse is often used out of context by some people to show that believers are all "spiritual Jews" and God no longer distinguishes between Jew and gentile in any way. The context however is quite plain - Paul is "talking TO Jews" here - not to gentiles. The verse comes at the end of several, showing that being a Jew outwardly means nothing to God. He demanded circumcision of their hearts (being "born again") since their beginnings with Abraham.
This is the same lesson Yeshua taught in John, chapter 3. Recall that He chastised Nicodemus for not knowing that he had to be born again. As a "teacher of Israel," Nicodemus should have known that Moses himself taught this. (For more on this subject see Section II of, "Not Subject to the Law of God?" in the YashaNet library.)
2:29 - in the spirit, and not in the letter
This does not mean that one no longer has to follow the commandments of Torah. They are all still valid (Matthew 5:17-21, Romans 3:31). Following in the spirit means performing the commandments in faith as part of a proper relationship to the One true God. This means not only keeping the Torah's minimal requirements, but going beyond them, as Yeshua taught in Matthew, chapters 5-7.
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